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Revisiting tandem repeats in psychiatric disorders from perspectives of genetics, physiology, and brain evolution
Molecular Psychiatry  (IF15.992),  Pub Date : 2021-10-14, DOI: 10.1038/s41380-021-01329-1
Xiao Xiao, Chu-Yi Zhang, Zhuohua Zhang, Zhonghua Hu, Ming Li, Tao Li

Genome-wide association studies (GWASs) have revealed substantial genetic components comprised of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the heritable risk of psychiatric disorders. However, genetic risk factors not covered by GWAS also play pivotal roles in these illnesses. Tandem repeats, which are likely functional but frequently overlooked by GWAS, may account for an important proportion in the “missing heritability” of psychiatric disorders. Despite difficulties in characterizing and quantifying tandem repeats in the genome, studies have been carried out in an attempt to describe impact of tandem repeats on gene regulation and human phenotypes. In this review, we have introduced recent research progress regarding the genomic distribution and regulatory mechanisms of tandem repeats. We have also summarized the current knowledge of the genetic architecture and biological underpinnings of psychiatric disorders brought by studies of tandem repeats. These findings suggest that tandem repeats, in candidate psychiatric risk genes or in different levels of linkage disequilibrium (LD) with psychiatric GWAS SNPs and haplotypes, may modulate biological phenotypes related to psychiatric disorders (e.g., cognitive function and brain physiology) through regulating alternative splicing, promoter activity, enhancer activity and so on. In addition, many tandem repeats undergo tight natural selection in the human lineage, and likely exert crucial roles in human brain evolution. Taken together, the putative roles of tandem repeats in the pathogenesis of psychiatric disorders is strongly implicated, and using examples from previous literatures, we wish to call for further attention to tandem repeats in the post-GWAS era of psychiatric disorders.